House Speaker Paul Ryan has a harder job than many of his predecessors. Rarely has the speaker had to deal with such an irresponsible and unserious group of politicians so uninterested in good governance.
This dangerous group goes by many names including: "the Establishment," the "centrists," and the "bipartisan consensus."
The budget deal just passed by outgoing Speaker John Boehner, in collaboration with the Democratic leadership and the Obama White House, was a tour de force of bad lawmaking, unserious budgeting, and politically expedient irresponsibility. It averts a debt-ceiling emergency and sets spending levels through next year, but it does so by busting the spending caps that these same leaders just recently created. It supposedly offsets these spending hikes with spending cuts in the distant future.
The deal exceeds current spending caps by $90 billion over the next two years, financed in part by instituting new spending caps — in the year 2025. As my colleague Phil Klein put it, "we're supposed to believe that a decade from now, a new president and a drastically different Congress that had nothing to do with current negotiations will feel bound by the limits being placed on them by this current deal. It's pure fantasy."
This isn't a matter of ideology, or simply a case of the Boehner-Pelosi-Obama alliance being too liberal or spending too much. This is about unserious, dishonest budgeting. It's about people not terribly interested in good governance.
The budget deal also calls for selling off 8 percent of the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve. The idea of the SPR is to hedge against future oil shortages caused by global disruptions. It may or may not make any sense to have an SPR. It certainly is hard to justify selling off oil at record low prices to pay for ongoing expenses rather than some one-time emergency.
The oil gimmick gets worse, though. We are supposed to raise $5.05 billion by selling 58 million barrels. That's an assumed price of $87 per barrel — or almost twice the current price.
The reckless bipartisan coalition also finds imaginary savings by passing toothless Medicare reforms. The budget deal includes arcane changes in the name of curbing tricks that hospitals and affiliated doctors' offices can play in order to get higher payments from Medicare. But cunning doctors will still be able to play this game, and so the supposed $9 billion in savings may never materialize. There are other gimmicks, including raiding the Social Security retirement trust fund in order to pay Social Security disability benefits.
The faction behind this budget deal clearly doesn't take legislating too seriously.
The Establishment also makes unserious arguments that ooze with economic illiteracy. By circumventing the House GOP leadership, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama successfully pushed through the U.S. House last week a bill to revive the Export-Import Bank. The congressional argument for Ex-Im is in essence that taxpayer subsidies of U.S. exports have no economic costs. This is not grounded in sound economics, to say the least.
As Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a leading centrist Ex-Im defender, articulated it, "Pride in our exports and pride in our manufacturing is something that we should have pride in."
The bipartisan establishment has passed bloated farm bills year after year — bills that include the indefensible sugar program, which drives U.S. foodmakers out of business in order to reward a few politically connected sugar magnates in Florida. The ethanol mandate is bad for drivers, ranchers, food consumers and the environment, but thanks to a bipartisan desire to pander to Iowa, it exists still.
The bipartisan establishment came together to authorize President Bush's Iraq War, and it acquiesced to President Obama's illegal Libya war — both of which destabilized the Middle East and created breeding grounds for the Islamic State and other terrorist groups.
The bipartisan establishment has created a system where policymaking is often done in exchange for campaign contributions. Those who can't afford to hire a former congressman as a lobbyist thus get crowded out.
Then when popular sentiment rises up against Washington, the bipartisan establishment blames it on the "ideologues" and the "bomb-throwers" in the accursed "outside groups." The gall of those "outside groups" engaging in political debate without a permission slip from the insiders.
Speaker Ryan is no outsider. He's a former Hill staffer who takes the gavel with the blessing of the current establishment. He voted for this budget and for the bailouts and the overspending of the past.
But Ryan on Thursday promised a clean slate. He came to the speaker's chair thanks to a rebellion by members outside of the bipartisan establishment. Maybe Ryan can save the country from the reckless band of lawmakers who are wreaking havoc in Congress.
Timothy P. Carney, The Washington Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at email@example.com. His column appears Tuesday and Thursday nights on washingtonexaminer.com.